Climate Change: Study estimates that nuclear energy leads to substantially fewer pollution-related deaths and greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil-fuel sourcesEver since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, critics of nuclear power have questioned how heavily the world should rely on the energy source. Countries like japan (understandably) and Germany (surprisingly) made moves to ban nuclear power from use in their countries in lieu of more heavy reliance on coal and the hop of wind and solar become cheaper with new tech. The sun provides us with enough energy in one hour to power the whole planet for a full year so I hope as the technology improves and costs drop energy output will start to go through the roof. In the meantime, there is good news for nuclear.
According to a new study conducted by Pushker A. Kharecha, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and James E. Hansen (also of Goddard) using nuclear power in place of fossil-fuel energy sources, such as coal, has prevented some 1.8 million air pollution-related deaths globally and could save millions of more lives in coming decades.
According to the study, nuclear energy prevents emissions of huge quantities of greenhouse gases. These estimates help make the case that policymakers should continue to rely on and expand nuclear power in place of fossil fuels to mitigate climate change.
“I was very disturbed by all the negative and in many cases unfounded hysteria regarding nuclear power after the Fukushima accident,” says Pushker A. Kharecha.
Kharecha was surprised to find no broad studies on preventable deaths that could be attributed to nuclear power’s pollution savings. But he did find data from a 2007 study on the average number of deaths per unit of energy generated with fossil fuels and nuclear power (Lancet, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61253-7). These estimates include deaths related to all aspects of each energy source from mining the necessary natural resources to power generation. For example, the data took into account chronic bronchitis among coal miners and air pollution-related conditions among the public, including lung cancer.The articleis worth reading, if you get a chance but the the short of it is if coal or natural gas power had replaced nuclear energy from 1971 to 2009, the equivalent of an additional 64 gigatons of carbon would have reached the atmosphere. Looking forward, switching out nuclear for coal or natural gas power would lead to the release of 80 to 240 gigatons of additional carbon by 2050 (less than half the current estimates).
The NASA researchers combined this information with historical energy generation data to estimate how many deaths would have been caused if fossil-fuel burning was used instead of nuclear power generation from 1971 to 2009. They similarly estimated that the use of nuclear power over that time caused 5,000 or so deaths, such as cancer deaths from radiation fallout and worker accidents. Comparing those two estimates, Kharecha and Hansen came up with the 1.8 million figure.
They next estimated the total number of deaths that could be prevented through nuclear power over the next four decades using available estimates of future nuclear use. Replacing all forecasted nuclear power use until 2050 with natural gas would cause an additional 420,000 deaths, whereas swapping it with coal, which produces significantly more pollution than gas, would mean about 7 million additional deaths. The study focused strictly on deaths, not long-term health issues that might shorten lives, and the authors did not attempt to estimate potential deaths tied to climate change.